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It Defends Itself (Dark Aether)

Scottie watched the fire as Sky slept. He wished sleep would come for him as it had for her, but it continued to stay just out of his grasp. It was probably for the best, really. He doubted she was getting any rest the way she was mumbling incoherently and drawing the occasional terrified gasp.

The tremors in his hand would start slow before working their way up his arms, finally resulting in a full body shudder. This seemed to quell them for a few blissful minutes before the shakes would start and the cycle would repeat itself. During this time he would pour glass after glass of absinthe, downing each one before he was unable to hold the glass or bottle safely. When that happened, he just waited, reflecting on what had just happened.

     He and Sky had started the evening at Cuffs, eager to be rid of that damned machine. A
     small crowd had gathered inside their establishment, and he had invited everyone to come
     and watch.  Among the crowd were Miss Ginsberg, Captain Von Thesium, Mr. Petharic,
     Mr.  Qork, and Brother Scorpio. Mr. Qork’s assistance had been requested in removing the
     machine and the Brother had been onsite to take possession of the machine once it had
     been freed from the underground.

     The group had gathered around the hole he had a prepared by prying loose the
     cobblestones and knocking loose the stones from the ceiling below. He had gone down
     inside to assist in any way he could. It was late enough by then that the creature was out,
     completely encompassing the machine, its eye darting about and latching on to the closest
     living object, which in this case was Scottie himself.

     Mr. Qork had descended onto the machine from topside through the hole, latching on
     somewhere Scottie couldn’t see and beginning to pull. The creature around the machine let
     loose an unearthly wail that made his blood run cold. It was much stronger and louder
     than that first night he and Sky had watched it materialize.

     Without warning, the automaton’s frame creaked and rivets popped, fissures of steam
     burst from seams along its boiler before it seized up fell to the ground with a heavy
     metallic thud. Scottie could hear poor Mr. Qork clicking away inside, but he otherwise
     seemed lifeless. He wasn’t sure if it was a case of mechanical failure or if the machine was
     somehow responsible, but it made him more determined than ever to get that contraption
     out of Port for good.

     He called up for a rope and Sky dropped one end through the hole. He tethered it around
     the goo-covered machine and hollered up that it was ready. It was hard to see who was up
     there, but it would seem 5-6 people gave it a good solid pull.

     This time the creature went berserk, not just wailing but screaming. It was a scream the
     likes of which he’d never heard before. He boxed his own ears bringing his hands up to
     muffle the sound, but it didn’t help. It seemed as though the sound was not only coming
     from the machine, but was being directly transmitted into his brain. He didn’t know how
     he got there, but his back was now against the wall, his body flattened to it, like he was
     trying to press through it just to get away from that sound.

     And that, if one could believe it, wasn’t the worst of it. His deepest, darkest moments began
     to bubble to the surface. Not specific memories, really, but the feelings those moments had
     imprinted on his life. Grief, sorrow, loss, guilt, abandonment. All of those coalesced and
     burned across his mind and heart. He squeezed his eyes shut and to try and block them out
     but it wasn’t helping. He opened them again and saw that the creature’s one hideous eye
     was glowing red and starting directly at him. Through him.

     Finally it all eased as the rope went slack. The scream wound down and the glow in the
     eye faded. He pulled his hands from his ears and he didn’t even hear that typical ringing
     noise. His mind slowly cleared and he concluded quickly that the sound had, in fact,
     mostly been in his head.

The strongest shudder yet racked his body and when it subsided he grabbed for the absinthe and just upended the bottle. He drained the last half of it and set it next to several other empties. He had just gotten the next one open when the shakes made it impossible to do anything more than stare at the green liquid, waiting for it all to pass again.

     The chain of events moved rather quickly after that, at least to him. He was aware that
     Captain Von Thesium was standing beside him and that Mr. Qork had come back to life,
     such as it was for his kind. The automaton was doing a “system check”, whatever that
     was. The two men helped as best they could to aid the broken fellow out of
     the underground and back to the surface.

     The folks that remained, and he couldn’t blame any who had scattered, looked pale and
     shaken. Especially the brother, who had withdrawn a notebook and seemed to be
     scribbling away. The brother was shaking too, and as a result broke two pencils before
     finally giving up. His voice, however, was rock steady as he asked permission to setup a lab
     in the underground and to be allowed to study it where it remained.

     Scottie had readily agreed and waved the brother on, clearly more concerned about the
     state of Mr. Qork. The automaton was now rattling off numbers and statistics.

     “Material: unknown. Energy source: unknown, reported as dark aether. Attempt to
     remove: unknown energy overloaded tubes and melted cylinders. Damage estimate:
     unknown. Success: 0%.”

     “Noise approximated vocalization of organic being.”

     “It defends itself.”

     That was the first full shudder Scottie had experienced that night, a sign of many more to
     come. It defends itself. Damn right it does.

     Jed had shown up, he wasn’t sure when that had happened. She and Mr. Qork were
     talking about the machines as if they were joined at a single source, which would lead him
     to conclude that while these things looked like half-submerged canisters, they were in fact
     tubes or shafts that descended much deeper into the ground. Mr. Qork surmised roughly
     100 feet down, but he wasn’t very sure about his estimate.

     Mr. Qork finally powered down, whether by choice or otherwise was anyone’s guess. Jed
     left to retrieve a gurney and transported him safely to the Europan consulate at the request
     of some sort of recording within the damaged automaton.

     Scottie and Sky, and later Jed, retired to Cuffs and discussed the night’s events before
     they finally turned in.

Scottie shuddered again, his eyelids starting to grow heavy at last. He downed the entire bottle and set it aside, finally curling up next to Sky. Closing his eyes, his last thoughts were of Mr. Qork’s statement, “It defends itself,” and what might happen if those things decided to stop defending themselves and go on the attack.



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One Comment

  1. Avariel Falcon Avariel Falcon November 2, 2011

    Poor birdy!

    I’m glad now that I did not try to remove one of the machines to analyse in my lab, who knows what might have happened!

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